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What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to stop breathing for a period of time when they’re asleep. There are various different factors that can cause sleep apnea, such as an enlarged tongue or throat, too much weight on the chest, or weak muscles around the airways. The American Academy of Otolaryngology has determined that up to 18 million people in the United States suffer from this condition. It’s more common among men than women and typically improves with age.

Types of Sleep Apnea

Mild sleep apnea is categorized by 20 to 30 second pauses in breathing at night. This is usually when the person shifts position or changes sleeping areas. Severe apnea can affect blood oxygen and heart rate, causing symptoms such as headaches, poor motor control, and irregular heart rhythms. There are two types of severe apnea: Central sleep apnea is caused by problems with the brain’s signals to the body’s muscles. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by blockages in the airway due to a large tongue or tonsils that swell and block breathing passages.

Sleep Apnea Explained

On average, adults spend over one-third of their lives sleeping. One of the most important parts of that sleep cycle is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This stage of sleep is when our brain cells discharge and restructure, making them ready for waking. A person with severe sleep apnea doesn’t get as much REM sleep during the night as a person who doesn’t have the condition. However, it’s possible to wake up and have trouble breathing for several minutes after one such episode, despite being asleep and unaware of how long it lasted. Most people with these episodes don’t recall them because their brains are so focused on other tasks throughout the night.